While large reforestation commitments and new collaborations are exciting and draw most of the headlines, understanding the perspectives and motivations of smallholder farmers are equally important if tropical reforestation efforts are to succeed at scale. Taking Root recently spoke with Justina Victoria Valdivia, a farmer who has been growing trees with the Plan Vivo certified CommuniTree project for 10 years. The 'CommuniTree Carbon Program' uses reforestation to create long-term income opportunities for farmers in Central America, many of whom are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

In her interview, Justina gives us insight into what reforestation means to her.

“I learned to value trees because they are the only ones that give us clean oxygen and are responsible for sequestering carbon.

- Justina Victoria Valdivia, La Grecia community, Nicaragia, 2021
Credit: ©Taking Root 

A day in the life...

Justina lives with her husband, son, and two daughters in the community of La Grecia. La Grecia is a community in the Northwest of Nicaragua, surrounded by large green hills that swell across the region of Esteli. Before discovering CommuniTree ten years ago, a typical day for Justina included getting up early to milk the cows and do errands around the house, like making tortillas, preparing meals, or washing dishes & clothes. Like many other farmers typical across the country, her and her family’s livelihoods revolved around growing crops (beans, corn) and raising livestock (cattle, chickens). Ten years later, she still carries on with these activities, with one addition: she also takes care of a mature, growing forest.

Justina’s forest after 10 years of being planted in 2011. Justina says that growing a forest is hard work, but worth it. 
Credit: ©Taking Root


What does growing a forest look like?

Justina discovered CommuniTree through some neighbours, who had good things to say about the program. It wasn’t common for farmers to grow forests on their land in 2011, but Justina was curious. After showing an interest in joining, a Taking Root technician came to her house to talk about the program and educate on the benefits of growing trees on her farm. The technicians started to build a relationship with Justina, and she was soon convinced.

What motivated me to plant a forest was to improve the ecosystem. Since this area is very dry with little rain due to the lack of forests, I was motivated to plant trees on my farm.

- Justina Victoria Valdivia, La Grecia community, Nicaragia, 2021 | Credit: ©Taking Root  


Once Justina decided to enter the program, Ronald Martinez, one of Taking Root’s field technicians, visited her farm to plan how they would reforest her land. They drew out her farm along with its major landmarks, such as her house, cultivation area, well, pastures, and animal housing. Then they identified underused areas of her land where they could plant trees.

The project sets up centralized nursery sites to coordinate nursery activities with newly joined farmers. Justina worked with technicians and farmers at one of these sites, arranging and filling seedling bags with soil and fertilizer, then planting seeds in each bag. These seedling bags, once grown at the nursery site, were then transported back to Justina’s farm, where she planted them with her husband and other people from her community.

They taught me how to make a nursery, how to arrange the bags and how to plant the seed in the bags... How to plant my trees in straight lines so that the trees will grow in good conditions.

- Justina Victoria Valdivia, La Grecia community, Nicaragia, 2021 | Credit: ©Taking Root 


Along the way, she participated in several training and workshops, learning how to make a nursery, how to plant her trees in a straight line, why pruning is important, and what trees do for the environment. As her trees grew, technicians would regularly visit her farm and help troubleshoot any issues. She explained, “Whenever I noticed something wrong with the trees, I told the technician and was given a solution to take care of them”. When asked if growing her forest was difficult, Justina replied, “Yes, of course, it was difficult, it required a lot of effort, but it was worth it.”


A forest with many benefits

Since first planting her trees back in 2011, Justina has greatly benefited from her forest of 5,000+ trees. Besides providing a new form of income, they’ve created a long-term sustainable livelihood and helped improve the ecosystem.


Impact metrics for La Grecia, Nicaragua

Source: Taking Root 


1. A new form of income from trees and carbon

Before planting her trees, Justina’s income came from the sale of chicken eggs, milk, corn and beans. Now, she also receives payments for ecosystem services from the carbon stored in her trees.

When Taking Root sells Plan Vivo carbon credits, 60% of the sale goes directly to farmer income over a 10-year period. Justina uses part of the money that she receives to take care of the trees, but the rest goes to her home and feeding her family. The result is not only greater but more diversified income helping Justina build resilience in the event other production fails in a given year.

I know that the money that comes to my family through the forest comes from the sale of carbon credits that are sold to companies that pollute the environment.”

- Justina Victoria Valdivia, La Grecia community, Nicaragua, 2021 | Credit: ©Taking Root 


2. Creating a long-term sustainable livelihood

Creating long-term value from growing trees is key to ensuring the success of forests over time. Part of what makes Taking Root’s approach unique is the generation of forest enterprises. On Justina’s farm, she grows pochote cedar, genizaro, mahogany, black wood, and mandagual, all of which provide her with high-quality timber and firewood that she can sell through local markets as well as for artisanal woodcrafts and locally produced biochar. She also uses timber for her house, and she hopes for her children’s houses.

Justina hopes to use some of the trees that she grows to build houses for her children. Credit: ©Taking Root 


The trees that Justina uses for timber and firewood are taken into account with Taking Root’s forest designs and integrated within Taking Root’s carbon modelling for the carbon credits produced which accounts for periodic thinning to create more space for her forest to grow. Now that Justina knows the value that she can create from growing trees, she is determined to keep growing them. As she says, “If I cut one, I will plant one more.

“Something that I really like, that has never been seen in my community and that even today surprises me, is that they pay us for planting trees that are ours.

- Justina Victoria Valdivia, La Grecia community, Nicaragua, 2021 | Credit: ©Taking Root


3. An improved ecosystem for increased farmer resilience

Forest benefits don’t stop at additional revenue streams. As we know, they help with carbon sequestration, but also with water and air regulation, and habitat restoration. As Justina describes:

“Now that I have my forest planted, it is much cooler. My animals have shelter from the sun, and there are many different species of birds in the forest. I see rabbits, squirrels, and you can see birds make their nests in the trees. Most importantly, they [trees] provide oxygen for my family and my entire community, because we know that trees provide oxygen for life.

- Justina Victoria Valdivia, La Grecia community, Nicaragua, 2021 | Credit: ©Taking Root


Justina encourages other farmers to get involved “so that they can have a very big and beautiful forest-like mine”. Justina was one of the earliest farmers that CommuniTree partnered with, and the project has grown to work with over 1,300 farming families just like hers. As we enter into the second decade of Taking Root and Plan Vivo working together, we are excited to continue building relationships with smallholder farmers like Justina to continue driving reforestation with impact.